The Ancient Library

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On this page: Commerce (continued)



ally speaking, to the route and the time to be occupied, to the character and value of the wares, and to the repayment of the loan; the latter to determine whether it should be made on the ship's arriving at its destination, or on its return home. In the first case the creditor would often sail with the ship, if he had no representative on the spot or at the port for which she was bound.

At Athens, and no doubt in other cities, the interests of the creditor were protected by a strict code of laws. Fraudulent appro­priation of a deposit was punishable with death; dilatoriness in payment with im­prisonment. The creditor was allowed to seize not only the security, but the whole property of the debtor. In other respects Athenian legislation secured several ad­vantages to traders. Commercial cases only came before the law courts in winter, when navigation was impossible, and they had to be decided within a month. In ordinary cases of debt the creditor could only seize on the debtor's property ; but in commercial cases he was liable to be imprisoned if condemned to payment. In other matters aliens had to be represented in court by a citizen ; in commercial cases they could appear in per­son. It was the duty of the ThesmSthe'tae to see to the preparation of these cases. The trial was carried on and the verdict given by a special tribunal, the NautScKcie (see nautodic^e). Merchants could easily ob­tain the considerable privilege of exemption from military service, though they were not legally entitled to it.

In general it may be said that the Greek states, in consideration of the importance of trade, went very far in providing for its interests. They did their best to secure its safety and independence by force of arms, and concluded treaties with the same end in view. This is especially true of those agreements which regulated the legal rela­tions of the citizens of the two states in their intercourse with each other, and pre­scribed the forms to be observed by the citizens of one state when bringing suits against those of another. The institution of proxlni, corresponding to that of the modern consuls, was of immense benefit to the trading community. The Greek gov­ernments did a great deal in the way of constructing harbours, warehouses, and buildings for exchange in the neighbour­hood of the harbours. The superintendence of the harbour traffic, like that of the mar­ket traffic, was entrusted to special govern-

ment officials; iu Athens, for instance, to the ten overseers of the Empdrium (see agoranomi). The Athenians had also a special board, called mltrSndmi, to see that the weights and measures were correct. It was only in exceptional cases that the free­dom of trade was interfered with by mono­polies, nor was it usual to lay prohibitions upon imports. Prohibitions of exportation were, however, much commoner. In many states, as e.g. in Macedonia, it was forbidden to export building materials, especially wood for ship-building; and no grain might be exported from Attica. Again, no Athenian merchant was permitted to carry corn to I any harbour but that of Athens ; no citizen [ or resident alien could lend money on the security of ships carrying corn to any place but Athens. Even foreigners who came with corn into the harbour of Athens were j compelled to deposit two-thirds of it for ! sale there. To prevent excessive profits being realized in the corn trade, it was made ; a capital offence for any private citizen to-buy up more than 50 bushels at a time, or sell it at a profit of more than an ibOISs a j bushel. The corn trade was under the , superintendence of a board called sltopliy-\ IdkSs. In the prevailing activity of com­merce, the tolls on exports and imports were a plentiful source of revenue to the Greek government.

In Greek society petty trading was thought a vulgar and sordid pursuit, and was left to the poorer citizens and resident aliens. In Athens the class of resident aliens included a great number of the larger dealers; for the wealthier and more respect­able citizens liked lending their capital to others engaged in trade better than engag­ing in trade themselves.

Italy. In Italy an active commerce was early carried on at sea by the Etruscans, the other Italian peoples taking only a passive part in it. But Rome, from a very early time, became the commercial centre of Middle Italy. It was situated on a river deep enough to admit large vessels, the upper course and tributaries of which were also navigable. Its position was much im­proved by the harbour at the colony of Ostla, said to have been constructed under king Ancus Martius. So long as the Etruscans and Carthaginians and (as in later times) the Greek cities of Southern Italy and Sicily, like Tarentum and Syra­cuse, ruled the sea, the maritime power and commerce of Rome were restricted within very narrow limits. Even as late as the

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All non-public domain material, including introductions, markup, and OCR © 2005 Tim Spalding.